Every parent wants their children to grow up in a safe environment, but reality forces us to think about how to deal with the uglier side of society. It also means we have to decide how best to protect those we love. This involves more than making sure your home is safe and secured. You also have to teach your family how to protect themselves.

When it comes to children this can be a dilemma. When do you start? How much do you share? How do you share information and techniques without scaring them? We have to give our children skills that will enable them to defend themselves. It’s never too early (or too late) to start directing your comments and activities toward teaching your children a general theme of personal safety.

By incorporating the idea of safety into your everyday activities, it becomes a natural part of things and kids will hardly notice that they’re learning important life skills. By having personal safety so close at hand, it is always right there as a topic should something happen that prompts questions or discussion. Parents have to keep their eyes and ears open for “ripe” opportunities to discuss vital topics with their kids. Personal safety must be one of those topics.

Always On Guard

It’s no secret that the first line of defense is being aware. But being aware is more than just looking around so you don’t run into things or get hit. Being aware should engage all your senses so your brain can interpret what’s going on and make quick decisions. This is where you can help your children from a very early age. Talk to them about what they hear, see, smell and feel in various situations. Use their answers to guide conversations, allowing you to work in potentially lifesaving safety issues whenever possible.

Being aware is also about noticing what’s around you physically. For example, remembering where you park your car is an important safety habit that kids can have fun practicing, too. Make it a habit when the kids are with you to find features in the parking lot that will help you remember where you parked. Remind them to use landmarks that are stationary. Many times, the kids are much better at this than adults and they’re proud to remember when you can’t.

Once the car is located, the parking lot itself offers another opportunity for you to teach your kids about everyday safety. There are a lot of hidden dangers in a parking lot, so the phrase “keep your head on a swivel” reminds you that you should be looking around as you walk toward your car. As you go to your car, have your kids play a type of “I Spy” by noticing if there are any people near your vehicle, what kind of vehicle is parked next to you as well as paying attention to the taillights of nearby vehicles. If you have more than one child, this can be fun for them to take turns watching out for these things.

These are just a few things that can be done almost on a daily basis that will build a solid foundation on which you can add as the kids grow and mature. General safety skills such as those mentioned above will soon become second nature, and, as opportunity and maturity dictate, this foundation will allow you to take safety training with your child to the next level.

Survival Mindset

Children need to know what their parents think about self-defense. Discussing with your kids what you want them to do if they are being hurt will give them incredible comfort. They need to know it is okay for them to defend themselves.

Once they enter into the school environment, they have a whole other set of expectations placed on them, which can be confusing. The “zero tolerance” policy adopted by many schools is controversial to say the least. The expectation that all parties involved in a confrontation will be punished has conditioned our kids to not defend themselves.

Unfortunately, this makes it extremely difficult for parents who want to empower their children by teaching them self-defense. Once you have determined your beliefs, you must let your children know your feelings and why you feel that way. Your child will be much more confident if they know what you expect of them and that you will support them if need be.

Personal space and self-defense are important safety topics as children get older. We have a space around us that is like a buffer. Children need to know what’s appropriate and safe for this space and what is not. If this space is violated, your children need to know what to do. Simply extending an arm with your palm facing out is a visual cue to others to stay back and keep their distance. You can also add a strong verbal command like “Don’t come any closer!” or “Stop right there!”

Who we allow into our personal space means discussing who is a potential threat. We can’t tell who is a potential threat just by looking at them, which unfortunately can also include people we know. We must pay attention to their behaviors and the situation.

People who don’t look dangerous aren’t seen as a threat, so kids may allow them into their personal space, and this close proximity puts them at risk. This is exactly why your children need to know strong self-defense techniques.

Fighting Back

Whenever you feel your children are mature enough to understand the concept of self-defense is a good time to start teaching them. You may want to enroll them in ongoing training, such as studying a martial art, or you may prefer to have them take a self-defense class. Whichever option you choose, be sure it’s by qualified individuals, and, if possible, take the classes with your children. You’ll hear what they hear and learn the techniques right along with them.

Many of the techniques taught in self-defense classes don’t need lots of practice, but repetition is important for your brain to remember what to do. Consider taking multiple self-defense classes from different instructors, and then review with your children what was learned.

Children need to know that they have the right to defend themselves and that no one has the right to hurt them. This gives them “permission” to use techniques to defend themselves.

When being grabbed by the wrist, arm or shirt, a simple duck-and-twist motion will help them escape. Duck under the grabbing arm and twist your body as you aim to get behind them. You’re leaving their field of vision as well as twisting their arm, making it harder for them to hang on. As you’re doing this, use your own hands to pry their hand off of you and then run away. If they grab you by your clothing, it’s important to discuss the possibility of tearing or losing your shirt. Knowing that it’s a possibility makes it easier to accept.

A Stronger Defense

If you’re grabbed from behind like in a bear hug, get “heavy.” Lower your center like you’re sitting in a chair and keep your feet on the ground. This makes you more difficult to pick up. If you do get picked up, then bring both knees up and kick them straight out in front of you. Do this again and again. Throw your head back as you kick and scream loudly to draw attention to yourself and the situation at hand.

Once you’re back on the ground, hit the attacker with your rear end at the same time you extend your arms out front. This will weaken their hold and help you escape. If you’re being choked, put your chin to your chest and turn your head. This will help relieve pressure on your windpipe and at least one artery, which will continue to supply oxygen and blood to your brain. Once you’ve protected your throat, you can use your fingers to scratch and pinch, your elbows or knees to strike and your feet to scrape or stomp in order to escape.

Knowledge is power, so we must give our kids the knowledge to defend themselves. This knowledge will give them confidence, and people who carry themselves confidently are less likely to be targets, so you are giving your children another layer of protection. It’s a great way to protect the ones you love.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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